Saturday, August 15, 2009

Conquest (1983)
ITALY/ SPAIN/ MEXICO --- fantasy

Dir: Lucio Fulci

In my opinion, there were really only three master filmmakers in Italian cinema. Mario Bava, Jacques Tati, and Sergio Leone. Italian cinema is full of genre pieces that have glorified the exploits of their homelands myths such as the Hercules films and sand and sandal gladiator pics. And rightly so, what better kind of film to make to take advantage of the locale. American westerns were made for the same exact reasons. This following film comes at a time when that genre had subsided in Italian cultural popularity, who were used to leeching a genre and doing it to death. Versatile director Lucio Fulci, a basterd step-child of the aforementioned auteurs of Italian cinema, decided to cash in on the international success of CONAN and it's many American copycats. However, he missed the mark big time.

"Conquest" takes place in a distant unknown time period which looks perhistoric one moment, and in the next in the time of Grecian myths. This isn't specified, what is important for the audience to know is the story involves a young hero, named Ilias (you can make connections to the Iliad if you like) who is equipped with a magical bow by villagers. The problem is, besides having a convulted plot, the writers didn't consult any Joseph Campbell inferences here about a boy on a quest. They pretty much just throw the kid out there and say go find yourself. In the meantime, we are shown an evil sorceress with a full metallic face mask and pretty much nothing else, has a premonition of her death by the hands of a boy with a bow. That boy is Ilias, and she dispatches a species of dog soldiers who look like they're wearing $1.98 werewolf costumes to find him. When attacked by the soldiers, lucky for Ilias beefy hero archetype named Mace, comes to his rescue.
As Ilias and Mace bond, he leads him to a village of what looks to be a tribe of neandertals. The ravaging dog soldiers attack the village and kill the love interest of Ilias. I'm going to stop right here, because the rest of the film for me is simply not worth reviewing. I will sum up some of my feelings. Swamp zombies wearing white Hefty cinch-sack garbage bags attack Mace, decapitations galore (in full Fulci style), and the appearance of another villian clad in a suit of bathroom tiles. All to the funky score that sounds like it was put together by a bunch of street performers. This film has made me laugh more than a comedy. Fulci really missed the mark with this one.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Don't Look Now (1973)
--- horror

Dir: Nicolas Roeg

I came upon this movie twice when searching or looking for other films. It came up once as a suggestion on my Netflix subscription. Then it came up on IMDB as a related film. Fortuitous or not, I figured I should give it a shot. I went into it blind as bat, not having read anything but the description of the film. I read no reviews before. After watching it, I looked up other reviews and such and found it has it's place in film history.

"Don't Look Now" is an unassuming horror/suspense film, that film tells the story of a couple recovering from the horrific accidental drowning of their young daughter. At the time of her death she was wearing a red rain slicker, and the parents John and Laura Baxter (played by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) soon become estranged. They decide to leave their only son and take a working "vacation" to Venice, Italy might be the cure to their grief stricken estrangement. We are in the middle of the gothic Venice setting; complete with intentionally labyrinthine streets full of statues, churches, and gondolas pulling people to and fro. In this, John Baxter's architectural assignment is to restore a 16th Century church, probably no coincidence if you see the cathartic message there alone.

However, fate intervenes, as the couple encounter two elderly sisters in a cafe, one of which is a self-proclaimed psychic. The blind woman informs Laura that she sees their dead child and Laura has no problem believing it as she is given specific evidence. Laura literally passes out, and is hospitalized, as she reveals to John what the blind woman told her about their deceased daughter. John on the otherhand is a bit more skeptical about the whole situation. The film alludes to the fact that John too is psychic having already had a premonition about his daughter's drowning.

The two sisters' message to John via Laura is to simply to leave Venice. This should have some resonance with the couple as they discover a serial killer is loose. At some point in the film, the couple share a highly explicit and erotic sex scene. Having coincidentally just watched "Lust, Caution" (The R-rated version) just a day before, I was amazed at what they got away with in this film. This completely took me by surprise. Anyway, John consults some help from the Bishop of the church he's helping to rebuild, as he sees a young girl running through the streets with a red rain slicker. It's only when two foreboding circumstances come about that John is prepared to heed the psychic's warning. One, has a near deadly accident on the scaffolding inside the church, the other is an accident back home with their son, to which Laura goes to tend to the matter. However, John sees Laura has returned without notice on a nearby funeral gondola with the two sisters onboard. He quickly chases after her, but catches her to no avail.

He believes something is wrong as Laura has not contacted him, and even goes so far to suspect something sinister from the elderly sisters. Going to the local police to have them investigated, it is only at the point of finding them that John gets a call from home from his wife that their son is alright and she's coming back. However, John confronts the sisters and apologizes for his hasty suspicion of them, until the blind sister again warns that he is still in danger. That he is.

Upon my initial viewing, "Don't Look Now" felt like a Hollywood cash-in ripoff of the "Rosemary's Baby" and "Excorcist" ilk being produced at the time. Then my attitude changed, as it seemed to resonate with me. I kept thinking about it, and it felt kinda Hitchcockian with a Polanski-like vision, and I wasn't sure why. Then I found out it was based on a story by British author Daphne Du Maurier. This name is not a marquee name by any means, but I looked into her and discovered this woman had a huge influence upon Hitchcock, so much to the point three of his films are based on her works! The fact of the matter is, this film deserves all the accolades it gets because of its adult approach to the horror genre.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tetsuo (1989)
--- science fiction/horror
[In North America Tetsuo: The Iron Man]

Dir: Shinya Tsukamoto

Experimental films usually hit hard and heavy to the senses, as they’re use of celluloid are not bound by the constrictions of narrative storytelling or direction of the acting performances. It’s the difference between the abstract art of Jackson Pollock and Rothko from someone like Rembrandt or Norman Rockwell. “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” is no exception from this rule of non-boundary experimental film. It is a surreal piece of avant garde filmmaking from director Shinya Tsukamoto. It does however stay within the boundless genre of science fiction in addition to a little horror.

It’s hard to dissect a film that leads you to believe it’s a science fiction film, but quickly throws out all sentiments to story out the window. We are first introduced to an unknown metal fetishist in an industrial junkyard surrounded by every form of metal junk you can think of. The unknown man proceeds to cut into his leg and implant a metal rod under the muscle. Obviously, this man has become so obsessed with metal, that he has to “install” metal inside of himself. Upon becoming infected from the wound he gets up and runs out into the streets like a lunatic. A car driven by a businessman and his girlfriend hits the man, and they quickly disperse of the metal fetishist in a ravine off the side of the road.

Having left him for dead, the businessman wakes up the next day, only to discover a piece of metal imbedded in his face. Soon scraps and pieces of metal begin to grow all over him like a malignant cancer, and it happens fast and furious. The man becomes transformed, having rough sex with his girlfriend, a huge power drill for a penis ultimately ripping apart his girlfriend, and even dreaming of being sodomized by a harsh “steely dan” adorned by his girlfriend. His memories are even displayed on television sets in his apartment, that show the hit and run and show him and his girlfriend sexually aroused by the accident (a subject matter explored by JG Ballard’s novel “Crash” turned into a film by David Cronenberg). The film literally moves at accelerated pace to its conclusion as the dead metal fetishist and the transformed fetishist battle in the streets.

“Tetsuo: The Iron Man” is so kinetic and visually stunning, in it’s grainy 16mm black and white footage, and fast-paced MTV style editing that it leaves you almost speechless. The film is a complex essay, thesis, and commentary on man’s everyday life with machines and metal. Sure it’s been done before, and probably to death with cyberpunk literature and films. But this is different. If you can discern certain meaning from the film such as the original “metal fetishist” having a ripped photograph of an athlete running representing man’s inert human desire to reach human physical perfection. There’s also the obvious sexual subtext that could be discussed and argued about forever. The one thing that I was reminded of when watching this was an episode of television series “Amazing Stories”, about a teenager who had a similar problem with metal being magnetically attracted to him, except he wanted no part of it. In the end of that episode, to his dismay, he found himself pulled to a nerdy girl with braces. This film seems to be the opposite sentiment of wanting to embrace metal, and dealing with the physical and psychological consequences of that fetish. Coming from a country that has opened the proverbial “pandora’s xbox” with new high-tech discoveries every year, it would seem they do have more of an attraction than anyone else in the world.